TEXT review

Saying / not saying

review by Rose Lucas


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Eddie Paterson
Whitmore Press, Geelong VIC 2016
ISBN 9780987386687
Pb 120pp AUD24.95


Eddie Paterson’s debut collection of poetry, redactor, plays with ideas of what can be said, what isn’t said and what it might be possible to interpret across a variety of modes. While we might think of ‘redaction’ as being primarily concerned with forms of censorship, these poems push and niggle a reader to think laterally about the multiple ways in which the idea of the ‘the blank’ or being blanked out might operate: in terms of self-censorship, as a way of making a particular more generalisable, even as a method for drawing attention to that which might appear to be self-deprecating, cloaked in discretion. The collection after all is titled redactor; these textual clusters are not merely – or not simply – passive victims of a censor’s knife, but in fact are also potentially actors using the technique of redaction as others might use the dash or the white space on a page. Redactor is about the things that are said on the surface, with directness and verve and engagement. It is also about the nuance under the word, the often punning or uncomfortable space levered open by irony or the graphic  .

As Derrida put it (although literary theory is a very light touch here), meaning is ‘under erasure’, just the merest trace still visible under the obscurity of the inscribed word. The poems themselves highlight the idea that everything in this fast world of multiple discourses and global identifications can be co-opted into material for poetic language. If all poetry hovers somewhere on a spectrum between the specificity and subjectivity of the poet and an external world which can be observed, catalogued, responded to, then these poems self-consciously experiment with that permeable boundary. They move around between the personal or self-referential - ‘is it worth pointing out/that i/would be considered/a giant in japan?’ (14), or ‘you may now be exposed to a little too much of my writing for which I apologise’ (57) – to fragments from a newspaper, statistics, moments of observation, varieties of what feel like uncensored mental meanderings or snippets of conversation: ‘he’s a bachelor. a bachelor of what? no,/just a bachelor. you have to be a bachelor of something’ (35). Or, in a poem entitled ‘the cuteness of ___’, we have what reads like a stream of consciousness, an eclectic accumulation of image, idea and response: ‘a typhoon came to Osaka today it was a lovely friend I got/drenched then i sit a café & japanese lady not likes this as i’ (31).
While drawing a reader in with strategies of surprise, Paterson also uses a number of devices to distance and disrupt the reader: for instance, capitalisation is used erratically with most proper nouns in lower case; the use of the graphics – bolding, the blacked-out line of redaction, shifts in font, the use of images / icons, the use of text boxes; the abbreviation of syntax which makes poems read like jottings or an uncorrected first draft; the ironic use of the scholarly footnote. These techniques of dislocation can work productively to prise open a reader’s expectations, unsettling us with meta-questions such as: what is poetry? How does language work? How – or should – I identify meaning in this collection of often seemingly random semantic significations? However, where the structuring role of the poetic imagination is muted in order to maximise ambiguity and disruption, a reader might either become too disoriented and lose connection to the text or, alternatively, be jolted into taking a more proactive role in negotiating these textual fields of word / white space / redaction. As Paterson notes in the poem ‘verfremdungseffekt’, the technique of alienation always plays for high stakes.

If a key stylistic motif in the collection is the effect of the draft, the seemingly spontaneous present tense text, the central model is that of the email or the text message – texts produced through a digital technology which not only operates as another point of interface between speaker and listener / reader but in fact also shapes the mode of that communication. From the apparent privacy of the email – where it can feel possible to think aloud and to be in a hermetically sealed relationship with a reader – text is actually launched into the public sphere, impossible to reclaim or control. The published poem reproduces this tension between intimacy and pubic speech, the crafted text and the looser patterns of thought and speech.

The second section of the collection, ‘call and response’ moves into more of an exchange or dialogic mode. Again, by emulating the text message or email, there is a sense of delay, the hovering of text in the ether that may or may not connect with anyone else, to which there may or may not be a reply. The voice in these poems appears to be attempting to make contact, to presuppose existing relationships in which there is already a shared space of listening and responding: eg ‘well done about the donkey keep it up & for gods sake get to/rio & take some coke’ (109). Like the email, they seem to offer a space which is both intimate – conversations we are already in the middle of – and yet are operating in the public domain. And where exactly do they place us, the reader of the poem? Do we stand in as the recipient of the ‘email / poem’? Are we eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation? Are we excluded? Or is this how we are actually positioned in relation to all texts, all productions of meaning – hovering on the edge of other scripts, only partially heard or understood exchanges? These poems prise apart text and meaning, speaker and recipient.

Beginning with a poem entitled ‘love story’ and concluding with another ‘love poem’, Paterson also explicitly situates his exploratory poetic within the idea of love as a meta form of connection – the longed-for resolving of the conversational or textual loop, an email answered, a back story or sub-text understood and accepted. There may be a plethora of things that distract and divide, but it seems that redactor has not given up entirely on the counter principle of coherence and synergy: ‘leave me with the park with the sun & that afternoon when/unexpectedly you moved away from kafka & toward me’ (114).


Dr Rose Lucas is a Melbourne poet who teaches in the Graduate Research Centre at Victoria University.


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Vol 21 No 1 April 2017
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Julienne van Loon
Reviews Editor: Linda Weste